We’ve experienced one major Chinese holiday (Chinese New Year) and were looking forward to experiencing another major Chinese holiday (Golden Week). It seems all of China has off for all their holidays which usually last about a week or so.
Chinese New Year vs. Golden Week
During Chinese New Year, Beijing became a ghost town. It was amazing. There were barely any cars on the streets and no one was on the subway. Along with that, it also meant that pretty much all stores and restaurants were closed. That was Chinese New Year. We thought that maybe Golden Week would be the same. We heard from some locals that Beijing would be quiet (except for the major sights like Forbidden City and Summer Palace) as many people were traveling for the holiday (another reason not to travel anywhere in China during this time because EVERYONE is traveling within China). We found that Golden Week really hasn’t been that quiet. Sure, the streets are a little quieter but not much. Stores and restaurants are still open (and delivering). We didn’t try any of the closer sites (which we’ve already seen) but we did explore the Great Wall some more. The wild parts of the Wall were not crowded even with the holiday.
One positive of it being Golden Week is that there are no tolls. It was nice driving to the Great Wall and not having to stop and pay the toll (well, there still was a little slow down at the toll booths as everyone drove through). We spent three days of the Golden Week traveling to three different parts of the Great Wall we haven’t explored before.
Great Wall Stop #1:
Gubeikou Great Wall (Wohushan Section)
We decided to go back to Gubeikou to explore the other side of it. In the spring, we explored the Panlongshan Section, which is on the same side as the small town of Gubeikou. This time we wanted to explore the part just across the road from the town.
Where is it?
Last time, we could not find the entrance to the Wohushan Section. This time, we found it (don’t know how we missed it last time) and learned we need to head up these stairs to get to the entrance (not sure why there wasn’t a sign there saying, “this way!”). We had the pups with us and went to start up the stairs but a lady was sitting there and told us it wasn’t opened. Of course. We wanted to hike somewhere after all that driving, so we went across the street to look at the map of the Wall to see if there was another way for us to get up there. Fortunately, there was a Chinese family there who also wanted to hike the part we wanted to. While we didn’t have enough Chinese language skill to ask about getting on the Great Wall, we watched as this family was asking the lady for directions. We then ended up following the family just a 100 meters down the road and starting up a dirt path there. They said they were also going to the Changcheng, so we started up that path. That’s all we needed-a path to lead us up.
We hiked up this path on the mountain which eventually led us to the Great Wall. Gubeikou is a wild part of the Wall where you actually have to walk on a dirt path next to the crumbling wall.
Fortunately, there were not many people there (it was us, plus the family who helped get us started, and on our return, two other groups). This was perfect especially since we had the pups with us and they really got to enjoy the wall.
It was a pretty good day we had to climb, so we also got some great views of Jinshanling and even Simatai way off in the distance once we made it to the top.
The Wild Wall
Because the wall is so wild here, you actually walk right alongside of it (and then go up on the crumbled watch towers as you go along). It was cool to see the section of Gubeikou that we hiked the last time we were here.
Pups on the Wall
Our pups like getting out with us when they can. With fall weather around, we had the pups join us. I made sure to bring along our dog backpack since I knew Maya would get tired (and I would get tired of carrying her in my arms). She may be a one-eyed blind dog, but she still enjoys her outings. I ended up carrying Maya for awhile, and she enjoyed sniffing the breeze. I then noticed how Rikki looked a bit tired, so since I couldn’t pick him up and carry him in my arms as well, I thought I would try him in the carrier. Boy, did he love it. He curled right up in there and had a nice break. These two pups are so well-traveled and do so well on our adventures.
Great Wall Stop #2:
Shixiaguan (Stone Gorge Pass Great Wall aka Badaling Remnant)
On Day 2, we went to Shixiaguan. Because this is the Badaling Remnant and out by Badaling (the most famous section for Chinese tourists), we knew that the drive wouldn’t be the best, especially during this holiday week. Nonetheless, we still went, and of course, we hit a bunch of traffic. However, no one was headed to where we were going, so that worked out!
Where is it?
We entered the town and followed the GPS to where it said the Great Wall parking lot was. Well, as we were going there, it was blocked due to construction.
We parked just at the construction entrance and walked the .4 miles to the parking lot. We got there, and it was a desolate parking lot but it had a nice path leading up the mountain from it. We started up the mountain and hiked and hiked. We did pass by a couple groups but that was it. Since we arrived later in the day due to traffic and such, we had to be cautious of the time, especially with the days getting shorter.
Try, try, try again
With no views of the Wall in sight, we made the decision to stop that hike and turn around since we saw another sign for the Great Wall in the teeny tiny village we entered to start. We went to the village but didn’t find a path for the Great Wall there.
So we decided to drive back to the construction area (this time we got them to let us drive through), and we still had no luck finding the Wall. We did find some goats though. 🙂
How did we miss it?
Still not giving up, we then started to drive to where we could see the Wall coming down to the road. Some people pulled off to the side, so we did too. There was a sign right there next to the Wall saying this was the Stone Gorge Pass Great Wall (who knew!). We ended up climbing this part a bit, but again, it’s VERY wild, so you have to be careful. Because of timing (and wanting to be safe), we didn’t go up very far. Now, we can check that one off our list.
Great Wall Stop #3:
I was unsure whether we would make it to this part of the Great Wall or not because I read that you have to hike up the mountain for hours before ever getting to the Wall, and it’s best to have a guide with you or you could easily get lost (and we did meet people who got lost…fortunately, not us!).
How to Get There?
I did some research and learned that there are two different parts of which to hike up to Jiankou-either from Wofo Mountain Villa or Xizhazi Village. Wofo Mountain Villa apparently was more popular due to lodging/food options but it would also be an intense 2-3 hours hike up the mountain first before reaching the Wall. I then read you could go to Xizhazi Village to the North and get to the Wall in about 30 minutes to an hour. We opted to go to Xizhazi Village.
Now, that I knew we wanted to go from the north, I needed to figure out where to find a path to hike up. There are many different villages within Xizhazi. I learned about Nanjili Village as being one place you can start from, so I put that into the GPS and hoped for the best once we got there. Sure enough, there was a villager there by some parking spots, so we parked next to a bus and some other cars and paid him 10 kuai. Then, he pointed in the direction of the Great Wall and we were off.
We passed by another local selling fruit, nuts, and walking sticks. After that, we weren’t sure whether to continue to follow the dirt road that may lead to another path or take the path that was to the left of us. We opted to take the path to the left and began our hike. The path led to a dirt road someone was making and then we picked up the trail again. We hiked and hiked and hiked…
Is this right?
We saw the Great Wall in the distance but didn’t know if we would actually make it (who knew if we were on the right path?!). Ben also commented on the watch tower waaayy up high on the mountain and how surely we wouldn’t be going there (Spoiler Alert: We did!!).
At one point, we finally started seeing signs about the Great Wall and red markers on the trees. We thought, “Yes! Surely, we were going the right way.” We followed the markers…and followed them and followed them.
We made it!
After a few stops and about an hour and 45 minutes later, we saw a couple people…up on the Wall. We made it!!
We entered through a watch tower and saw that we made it to the very top of the mountain. Boy, were the views something else. You are so high up there-above the trees, above the clouds, on the top of a wall on the very top of a mountain. If you are afraid of heights, this probably isn’t the best hike for you. Even for me, it was a bit much at time. There are times where there is no wall on the side of you, and it is a really steep drop from there if you would miss your footing (which could happen since there is just rubble at times).
Oy! I don’t know why, but I ended up climbing up one of the watch towers where a few other people were and looked out. This watch tower had no walls surrounding it…but it did provide cool views of the Wall that kept stretching along the mountains.
The pictures just don’t do justice to the views.
Not Quite Alone
There were more hikers here than at Gubeikou or Shixiaguan but this is popular with foreign tourists, and we passed a mix of foreign tourists and Chinese tourists. It did make me feel better seeing others (with their guides) walking by. It was also nice that we still had cell service-most of the time. Side note: We also saw a few kids up there. No way for me! It was so high up with some really iffy spots that I couldn’t imagine having kids there.
Jiankou probably would rank as my second favorite part of the Great Wall (Jinshanling is still number 1 for me!). It was just amazing to do all that hiking and to really be up on top of the mountains and to see the views we saw. It was so interesting seeing this wild wall–even if I was a little unsure of some parts at times.
After three days of hiking the Great Wall, we were ready for a rest day. I guess it worked out that we ended up having bad air the following day…
TOTE: Don’t give up! You may surprise yourself by what you find.